91 Electric Utility Industry Regulation A Brief Background

Numerous volumes have been written describing the U.S. system of electric utility regulation. A shorthand description is offered here for the purpose of orientation for new entrants to the regulatory environment. Electric regulation is a complicated interplay of federal, state, local, economic and environmental, legislative and administrative jurisdictions. These jurisdictions govern owners of electric utility generation, transmission, and distribution services provided by federal, state, investor-owned, cooperatively-owned, municipal-owned, and independent entities. Electric industry regulations are continually evolving. New regulations typically follow proven technological, economic, and informed public opinion developments that present a mandate for the legislative and regulatory structure to change. Regulatory decisions apply pertinent local, state, and federal laws to persuasive argument reflecting ever-changing technical, economic, and market conditions and circumstances. The regulatory changes then have direct impacts on the marketplace.

For many, their first impression of the regulatory arena may be the hearing room at a state public utilities commission (PUC). If this is the impression, it may be because slightly over three-fourths of electric customers are served by investor-owned utilities, all of whom are regulated by PUCs. However, the regulatory arena also encompasses the city council chamber, the rural electric cooperative board room, the halls of Congress, the state legislative hearing room, a meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a conference at a federal energy laboratory, and literally dozens of other locations. For the limited purpose of this chapter, the focus will be primarily on PUCs. It is relevant to note that many other local jurisdictions (such as customer-owned cooperative and municipal utilities) often use PUC rules as model regulations for their jurisdictions.

The PUC is the forum for practitioners, including economists, financial analysts, engineers, social scientists, environmentalists, and their legal counselors. These practitioners intervene on behalf of residential, commercial, industrial, fuel supplier, electric utility, municipal, environmental, and other constituencies. Quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial administrative hearings in contested cases and rulemaking proceedings lead to PUC decisions, which establish new or refined policies. Depending on state laws, individuals may participate pro se (on their own), without legal counsel, if they do not represent a corporation.

PUCs are administrative agencies consisting of commissioners, often three to five (or sometimes seven) in number. In most states, the commissioners are appointed by the governor, subject to legislative confirmation, to a term of service (typically four years). In a minority of states, the commissioners are elected officials. Many states have laws that require a balance of political party representation on the PUC. With the exception of a few states where commissioners derive their authority from the state constitution, most PUCs derive their authority from the state legislatures. Since PUCs usually derive their authority and receive their funds from legislatures, this affects their relationship to the legislature, especially on matters of major public policy.

Commissions retain an expert staff to assist in analyzing applications by utilities or complaints from consumers. Staff members are often divided into a trial group and an advisory group. The trial group has "party" status in contested hearings, having the same rights (and often more, such as audit power) as other parties in the process. The commissioners' advisors and counselors assist the commissioners in the deliberative process, including assistance in writing decisions. Administrative law judges are an important part of most PUCs, hearing cases and rendering recommended decisions that become final decisions according to certain procedures.

PUC proceedings ensure participants due process rights, including the right to discovery and the opportunity for cross-examination of witnesses. PUC commissioners' decisions must be based upon the evidence submitted on the record. The decisions are subject to internal appeal procedures and appeal to the judicial system to ensure that they are just and reasonable, not arbitrary and capricious.

Since state legislatures typically charge PUCs with the responsibilities to regulate local electric, local gas, telecommunications, some transportation, and water distribution companies, they are typically quite busy places. However, now that state and federal competitive telecommunications policies rely on PUCs to establish and enforce new telecom rules, these agencies are busier than ever. The results of this on regulatory attention to DG will be addressed in greater detail in this chapter.

Solar Stirling Engine Basics Explained

Solar Stirling Engine Basics Explained

The solar Stirling engine is progressively becoming a viable alternative to solar panels for its higher efficiency. Stirling engines might be the best way to harvest the power provided by the sun. This is an easy-to-understand explanation of how Stirling engines work, the different types, and why they are more efficient than steam engines.

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